When online dating first took off in 1995 with the well-known Match.com service, only about 14% of US adults even used the internet, let alone sought companionship online. Now, thanks to greater device penetration and the growth of social media, online dating isn’t the taboo “last resort” that people used to think it was. In fact, according to reports by the Pew Internet group, one out of every five adults between the ages of 25 and 34 has tried online dating, and 5% of marriages today came about as the result of meeting on the internet.
One of the cardinal rules of blind dating has always been to meet in a public place with lots of people around, preferably during the daytime and after letting someone close to you know where you’re going and who you’re meeting. It’s simply a matter of personal safety, especially when you’re meeting a stranger. But there are some things to understand about this public space when you’ve moved that dating world to the internet.
It might seem like common sense to use a public Wifi hotspot—such as a coffee shop or bookstore—when connecting with someone online for the first time. After all, your home connection involves a unique IP address associated with your internet account, so wouldn’t it be logical that a hacker could find out who you are and where you live?
The reality, though, is that public hotspots are not all that secure. You never want to share sensitive information like online banking accounts or credit card portals over unsecured public web connections, but the truth is online dating profiles can often contain just as much data as either of those. In fact, your online dating profile—if falling into the hands of a hacker—can cause far more personal safety problems than your banking data. After all, with online banking a thief just gains access to your checking account; with online dating data, a criminal could gain access to your home address, your workplace, any children’s or family members’ names, and more.
To stay safe online, you might consider setting up your online dating accounts through a separate email that you create just for this purpose. That way, your sensitive accounts like email or banking that are associated with your main email address aren’t tossed out there to be compromised. If you connect with someone from a dating site through a public WiFi connection such as responding to a message you’ve received, make sure you’re not sharing highly detailed information. Remember, if you do move to the stage of swapping pictures, make sure your geolocation settings are turned off when you snap the photo with your phone, and don’t share the picture over a public hotspot that could reveal your location to the wrong person.
Everyone wants to have a satisfactory social and dating life, no matter how that manifests itself on an individual basis, and online dating through reputable companies is certainly a viable option. Just remember to be safe about how you connect and what you share so that disappointment is the only consequence if your love interest turns out not to be the right match.